Councillor's guide to good design

The government's approach to localism marks a fundamental shift in the way to approach good design and placemaking. Councils, and councillors, now have real freedom and power to influence the quality of their local area.

New Road, Brighton.

New Road, Brighton. © Shaw and Shaw Photography.

As a councillor, you influence the future of your area and have the power to make it a great place to live and work. Few people are better placed to know what the community wants for its neighbourhood than a councillor. And few are better placed to help them get it.

These pages show how an understanding of good design can help you. Our case studies demonstrate some impressive councillor operation, from a ward member playing an honest broker role over a school, to leaders delivering transformation in Gateshead. The case studies also turn the spotlight on the work of councillors within six areas of influence, whether that is over green space – supporting meadowland purchase in South Northamptonshire - or over town centres, driving the groundbreaking redevelopment which is Liverpool One.

How to decide whether proposals are any good

Updates for councillors

Find out more about what makes a successful place with seven principles of good design.

Read how CABE can help councils.

How can councillors improve design quality?

Leaders and mayors

You set the direction. You have the authority to insist on design quality. Planning and design will help your council to deliver on its priorities and achieve your long-term vision for your area.

Executive members and portfolio holders

You are in a position to lead inside and outside the council in demanding high-quality design. The planning and development portfolio is the one with the key responsibility.

Committee members

You will be making decisions on proposals based on your local knowledge and your understanding of council strategy and policy.

Ward councillors

As a ward councillor, you are a community leader. You represent local people and involve them in decision-making. You can press the council to improve the quality of buildings and spaces.

Which areas can councillors influence?

Large scale planning

Your influence over design involves understanding how different themes and activities can be brought together to make better places.

Town centres

Your decisions can make the difference between a successful town centre and a declining one, with an impact across an even wider area.


Housing conditions will always feature in your caseload, but your involvement in new schemes could reduce problems for the future. 

School design

Whether you’re building a new school or refurbishing an existing one, it’s vital to get the most out of any investment.

Green spaces

There is a direct link between the quality of public space in an area and public satisfaction with the local authority that manages it.

Streets and squares

The state of local streets and squares is bound to be high on the list of your constituents’ concerns. Simple interventions can turn streets into popular public spaces in their own right. 

What do you think?

Do you have ideas about how to ensure great buildings and spaces in your local area? Any good examples others could learn from? Or are there useful resources we have missed? Leave your comment below and we'll get back to you - or email for a direct response.

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